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Languages of Morocco: Wikis


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Languages of Morocco
Official language Literary Arabic
Major native language Moroccan Arabic
Minority languages Berber languages (Tarifit, Tachelhit, Central Morocco Tamazight)
Main foreign/second languages French, (Spanish, English)

The languages of Morocco are classical Arabic as an official language (it is the "classical" Arabic of the Qur'an, literature and news media), also the country has a distinctive dialect of Arabic known as Moroccan Arabic or Darija. Approximately 8 million Moroccans speak Berber[1] — which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight) — either as a first language or bilingually with the spoken Arabic dialect.[2] French, which remains Morocco's unofficial second language, is taught universally and serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics; it is also widely used in education and government. Morocco is a member of La Francophonie. Berber activists have struggled for half a century for the recognition of their language as the official language of Morocco in the Moroccan constitution, and that this language should be taught in all Moroccan schools and universities. The latter demand being met by the Moroccan government in 2009.



An overview of the different Arabic dialects

Arabic is not Morocco's only official language although it is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, namely Darija that is spoken or understood, frequently as a second language, by the majority of the population (about 85% of the total population). Many native Berber speakers, also speak the local Arabic variant.[3] In 1995 the number of native speakers in Morocco was approximately 18.8 million (65% of the total population), and 21 million including the Moroccan diaspora.[4]

As a member of the Maghrebi Arabic grouping of dialects, Moroccan Arabic is similar to the dialects spoken in Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (and also Maltese). The country shows a marked difference in urban and rural dialects. This is due to the history of settlement. Originally, Arabs established centers of power in only a few cities and ports in the region, with the effect that the other areas remained Berber-speaking. Then in the 11th century, Bedouin tribes swept through much of the unsettled areas, spreading with them their distinct Arabic dialect in the non-urbanized areas and leaving speakers of Berber in isolated areas in the more mountainous regions.


Ethnolinguistic groups in Morocco (1973).

The exact population of Berber speakers is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not record language data in their censuses. The Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are inadequate, and it rates its own accuracy at only B-C for the area. Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date. The number for each dialect is difficult to estimate.

The number of Tarifit dialect was estimated to have around 1.5 million in 1990.[5] The language is spoken in the Rif area in the north of the country, and is the smallest Berber dialect in Morocco, by number of speakers. The Tashelhiyt dialect is considered to be the most widely spoken Berber dialect, as it covers the whole of the Region Souss-Massa-Draâ, and is also spoken in the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz region. Studies done in 1990 show around 3 million people, concentrated in the south of Morocco, speak the dialect.[6] Central-Morocco Tamazight is the second Berber language in Morocco. A 1998 studie done by Ethnologue, shows that around 3 million people speak the language in Morocco.[7] The total number of speakers was estimated at 3,150,000. The language is most used in the regions Middle Atlas, High Atlas, east High Atlas Mountains


Older studies

"Few census figures are available; all countries (Algeria and Morocco included) do not count Berber languages. Population shifts in location and number, effects of urbanization and education in other languages, etc., make estimates difficult. In 1952 A. Basset (LLB.4) estimated the number of Berberophones at 5,500,000. Between 1968 and 1978 estimates ranged from eight to thirteen million (as reported by Galand, LELB 56, pp. 107, 123-25); Voegelin and Voegelin (1977, p. 297) call eight million a conservative estimate. In 1980, S. Chaker estimated that the Berberophone populations of Kabylie and the three Moroccan groups numbered more than one million each; and that in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-)

In 1952, André Basset ("La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I, Oxford) estimated that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber. The 1960 census estimated that 34% of Moroccans spoke Berber, including bi-, tri-, and quadrilinguals. In 2000, Karl Prasse cited "more than half" in an interview conducted by Brahim Karada at According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population is estimated at 65% (1991 and 1995). However, the figures it gives for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, or about 57%. Most of these are accounted for by three dialects: Tarifit: 4.5 million (1991) Tachelhit: 7 million (1998) Central Morocco Tamazight: 7 million (1998) This nomenclature is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by local usage: thus Tachelhit is sub-divided into Tachelhit of the Dra valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other (mountain)-dialects. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain dialects cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the Central and eastern Atlas area) or Tachelhit. The differences among all Moroccan dialects are not too pronounced: public radio news are broadcast using the different dialects; each journalist speaks his or her own dialect and it is considered that understanding is not obstructed, even though most southern Berbers find Tarifit a little hard to listen to and need getting used to it to understand it.

Foreign languages

At the time of the French protectorate of Morocco, French was the official language of administration and education. Since independence, Morocco, like other countries of the Maghreb, has undertaken a policy of Arabization. Nonetheless, French remains an important language in Morocco, where it competes with Standard Arabic as the language of written expression and of higher education.

About 20,000 Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish. English, while still far behind French and Spanish in terms of the number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the second foreign language of choice among educated youth, after French. As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught in all public schools from the fourth year on.

See also



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